About 1 billion people in the world live without electricity.
In 2015, the United Nations announced an ambitious agenda of 17 Sustainable Development Goals aimed at eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change. The effort officially launched in January 2016.
Goal 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Two years on, several multinational energy companies have become involved, or increased efforts already under way, with initiatives aimed at bringing Goal 7 to reality for about 200 million people, mostly in least-developed counties.
Some of the companies that have announced major electrification efforts include Shell, Total, Schneider Electric and Engie.
Speaking late last year at the One Young World conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, discussed the company’s ambition to provide electricity to 100 million people who do not have a modern connection by 2030.
“Real, sustainable change takes passion. It takes determination. It also takes money,” he said.
“And when I say ‘money’ I want to be clear. I do not mean charity, although that is important. No, I mean investment. Investment in businesses that provide something people want at a price they can afford. That is how to achieve scale and sustainability.
“I want Shell to provide energy to those who do not have it today and I want that to become a significant part of Shell’s business,” he said.
Van Beurden said Shell has begun investing in Africa and Asia, helping turn startups into substantial businesses and encouraging innovation.
“It is investment worth making in a market worth serving. Because these future 100 million customers already spend money on energy,” he said.
The problem, he said, is that they can’t buy reliable supplies, being forced to spend their money on kerosene for lamps, diesel generators and unreliable grid connections.
He noted Shell’s investment in SolarNow, a Dutch company providing solar energy and financing solutions in East Africa.
“(SolarNow) sells systems which link a solar panel to the sort of battery you get in a standard car. These can provide light, charge phones and power a radio, television or fridge,” Van Beurden said.
“Another example is SunFunder, which finds finance for innovative solar companies dedicated to transforming remote, off-grid communities.
“And we have invested in Husk. This is a company that puts together larger systems, so-called mini-grids, that can power whole villages. It combines solar power with a back-up system which turns crop waste into natural gas,” he said.
“This change, this energy, improves lives for families, for communities and for entire countries.”
Total reports that it is helping ensure sustained access to energy through “social entrepreneurship.”
“Ultimately this requires modern solutions adapted to the individual needs of disadvantaged communities throughout the world,” the company said.
The company said its affiliates have been involved in various projects to provide access to energy to fuel-disadvantaged communities for more than a decade, including by recovering associated gas at its facilities and photovoltaic technology.
Total said it hopes to reach 25 million people in Africa by 2020 with its solar products.
“In the future, the countries most in need of energy will be those where access is currently limited and which have a high carbon energy mix. Giving these communities the widest possible access to cleaner energy is a key factor in the fight against climate change,” the company said.
Awango by Total is a range of photovoltaic solar products and services is designed for communities that don’t have access to energy.
“New products and services are being developed to meet the needs of communities with little or no access to the grid. For example, we are testing fans and cooking equipment that would allow people to reduce air pollution when preparing their meals or cooling off their homes. Digital, micro-payment solutions based on the ‘pay as you go’ concept are also being considered,” Total said.
Other Companies’ Efforts
Schneider Electric reported that it is halfway toward its goal of connecting 50 million new households to electricity by 2025.
The company said it hopes to train 120,000 underprivileged people in energy management by 2025. Other efforts include backing social entrepreneurs, including a pilot project to increase women participation in the field of access to energy, and multimillion-dollar investments to support innovative energy solutions and stimulate economic development across Africa by providing energy access to one million people by 2020.
French multinational Engie’s internal mini-grid company, PowerCorner, plans to power 40,000 homes in Tanzania by 2020.
EDF also is active in increasing electricity access in south African through partnerships with such companies as KES and Energie Rurale Africaine.